July 4, 2019 / 11:02 AM / 16 days ago

India's log-jammed courts hitting economy hard, Economic Survey says, suggesting easy fixes

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s grid-locked courts are a major hurdle to doing business and faster growth in Asia’s third-largest economy, a government report said on Thursday, calling for the hiring of thousands of new judges to clear a huge backlog of cases in just five years.

FILE PHOTO: People arrive at a district court in New Delhi January 3, 2013. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

India’s judicial system was not only saddled with over 35 million pending cases, of which around 87% were stuck at the district level or below, but also suffered from delays with clearing new cases, the government’s economic survey, presented to parliament on Thursday, said.

This was partly due to a lack of judges, leaving the country’s Case Clearance Rate (CCR), the ratio of number of cases completed to those filed in a year, at 88.7% in 2018.

But there are nationwide variations, with states like Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Tamil Nadu with nearly 100 percent CCR, while some in the east, including Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal, are significantly less efficient. Case clearance rates in those states range from 55% to 78%.

“A 100% clearance rate in the district and subordinate courts can be achieved by recruiting about 2,200 odd judges, which is well within sanctioned capacity,” the finance ministry’s chief economic adviser, Krishnamurthy Subramanian, the report’s main author, told reporters.

Many court systems in the United States and Europe had clearance rates of around 100%, the report said.

Overall, Indian courts would need a little over 8,500 judges across all levels to reach a 100% clearance rate and resolve all existing backlog in five years, the report calculated.

There was also a need to improve productivity, Subramanian said, which could be achieved through improved technology and administration and reworking court vacations.

“The main point of this analysis is that a major hurdle to economic growth and social well-being can be stabilized through a relatively small investment in the legal system,” the report said.

Prashant Reddy, a senior resident fellow focusing on judicial reforms at think-tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, said much more needed to be done.

“There are also a lot of systemic issues on the administrative side... Right now, there are only about 18,000 court rooms available in India,” he said.

“If you recruit 8,000 judges, where are you going to seat them?”

Courts have also struggled to find good candidates for the bench, especially in the lower judiciary, he said.

Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Nick Macfie

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